One of the biggest asks from dog owners is how do they stop their pet from constantly scratching. As a dogs skin is indicative of its overall health, constant itching and scratching is a symptom of an underlying problem. To rid a dog of this misery you have to identify the source of the problem to effectively treat it and prevent future recurrences.
Most fungal infections are caused by a type of yeast call Malassezia. This yeast is a normal part of the flora of the body and lives in minute amounts in a dog’s ears, skin and mucus membranes. As long as the body is in balance all is well. An overgrowth of this yeast can be caused by an underactive immune system or an overactive immune response where allergies are present due to overuse of antibiotics and medication, vaccinations, chemicals in flea treatments, irritating ingredients in grooming products, stress, or low-quality commercial dog food. Excessive yeast creates problems as it secretes enzymes and toxins which stress the immune system, overload the liver, and deposit in body tissues.
Yeast and the Immune system
When a vet sees a dog with allergies they may prescribe steroids to shut off the immune response, but while this will improve the symptoms it will not fix the underlying cause of the allergies. When your dog’s immune system is turned off with drugs, it can’t regulate and balance normal flora levels and yeast blooms may occur. If there are a secondary skin infection (caused by bacteria entering the skin through the dogs excessive scratching) antibiotics may be prescribed which are known to obliterate good bacteria along with the bad, wiping out healthy yeast levels and thus making the situation worse. So dogs with an underactive immune system or that are immuno-suppressed can end up with a yeast infection, as well as those dogs that have overactive immune systems or allergies.
Symptoms of an external yeast infection
Symptoms of this type of fungal infection are easy to spot and include
– Constant chewing or licking of the paws, or scooting their behind on the floor.
– Musty, pungent smelling paws or ears
– Dark rusty coloured hair between toes and the nail beds, and a rust colour around the genitals.
– Scratching the ears or head shaking, (a vet must rule out ear mites)
– Foul smelling greasy hair called seborrhea caused by a yeast infection of the hair follicle, which may be accompanied by dandruff.
– Hair loss on the tail and upper back.
– Black dots on the underbelly, or black patches of skin.
– Recurring secondary bacterial infections.
– Fatigue and joint pain may also be present.
Diagnosing a yeast infection
Yeast infections are often misdiagnosed. Some vets may prescribe steroids, antihistamines or antibiotics to treat a yeast infection. However, it can be easily determined if a yeast infection is present by taking skin scraping or rubbing a moistened Q-tip on the affected areas and viewing the sample cells under a microscope. Antibiotics don’t affect yeast so they keep on multiplying and making more yeast, which in turn, puts out more toxins and weakens the immune system.
Treating a yeast infection
The first step in successful treatment is to identify the cause of the infection and remove it as long term treatment of fungal infections is most successful when the cause is found and eliminated.
Feeding a nutritious diet is essential to eradicate yeast. Put your dog on a species appropriate diet avoiding low-grade commercial dog foods. Avoid carbohydrates and sugars in grains and fruit, including potatoes and rice as these ingredients will feed yeast and encourage overgrowth. Sugar is a major contributor to yeast infections so feed a low glycaemic diet.
Cleanse the yeasty parts of a dogs body. Yeast likes damp dark moist areas such as the armpits, genitals, in between paw pads, and groin creases. Yeasty ears should be gently cleansed regularly with a natural solution. To sooth itchy paws dipping the paws in a foot soak is more effective than wiping with a damp cloth. When washing does not use oatmeal based shampoo or grooming products as oats is a grain that provides a food source for the yeast. After bathing use a natural anti-fungal post bath rinses like the one below to prevent itching; this should be poured over the dogs body avoiding the face, head, and the ears,
– Natural anti fungal post bath body rinse: mix 1 gallon of water with 1 cup of organic apple cider vinegar and pour over the dogs body after bathing. Do not pour on head, face, or ears; only use from the neck back towards the tail and over the legs, rub in the rinse and then pat the dog dry without rinsing out.
Stress affects dogs and humans, in the same way, it creates an internal environment that is supportive of imbalances. Things that cause stress in a dog include lack of exercise, kenneling, visits to the vet, visits to the groomers, home renovations, stress in the household from a death, divorce or job loss, or loud noises such as fireworks or thunder. To manage or reduce stress ensure your dog has daily exercise, a comfy place to relax and sleep, regular grooming with a groomer who they enjoy visiting, the regular expression of your love and affection, limited time in kennels, and try to make their visit to the vet a fun experience. Massage and aromatherapy can be used to support stress reducing practices.
Try to limit synthetic prescription medicines as they confuse the immune system and suppress your dog’s natural healing abilities. Antibiotics encourage yeast infections as do steroids. Flea and tick medications can stress a dog’s immune system and contribute to yeast problems.
All of this can be confusing when you are trying to the right thing for your pet. Speak with a holistic vet who can offer advice on what options are available using a natural health approach. Note: stopping some medications abruptly can have serious side effects. Consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s medication plan.
Taking these steps can help you provide your dog with a healthy and yeast resisting lifestyle.